One side believes they are close to a deal.
The other argues that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Welcome to the NHL lockout, where they can’t even agree on what they disagree on, and can’t qualify how far apart they are.
The league that seems to love to cancel games tossed a few more into the dustbin on Monday, but that move – which wiped out all scheduled games until Dec. 31 – was a formality given the time it’ll take to continue to negotiate.
Determining how long that will take is difficult, as after last week’s apparent progress turned into another blowup, the two sides have remarkably different takes on where they sit.
“Big picture, I think it’s very positive in that we’re much closer – there’s no argument about that – than we were a week ago,” said Los Angeles Kings forward Kevin Westgarth, one of the main players taking part in negotiations.
“It’s kind of an unfortunate turn of events that at the end they walked away, but we feel at least that we’re within shouting distance of a deal.”
Unsurprisingly, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly had a different take. He pointed out that the “three areas that were important to the framework” of the league’s proposed offer were all “tied to significant concessions the owners had made” and not meant to be countered individually by the NHL Players’ Association.
Those three key issues, which remain the largest areas of disagreement between the two sides, are:
The length of the collective agreement. The owners have proposed a 10-year deal with an opt-out clause after eight. Players have proposed an eight-year deal with an opt-out after six.
Limits on contracts. This includes the length of deals, the year-to-year salary variance and penalties for cap circumvention using long-term contracts. Owners want contracts capped at five years for free agents and seven for players re-signing with their current team. Players have offered an eight-year limit.
Buyouts and other “transition mechanisms.” The league doesn’t want teams to be able to use compliance buyouts (which don’t count against the cap) or an escrow cap to get under what may be a much lower salary cap than last season. The NHLPA wants to give teams greater flexibility to transition to the new collective agreement, which will see the players’ share of revenue drop to 50 per cent from 57.
Daly was asked Monday if the two sides would have been “close” to an agreement if the players had accepted the owners’ terms on all three of those major dividing points.
“Yes,” he wrote in an e-mail, “but they weren’t settled. … That’s like saying if my grandmother had wheels she would be a car. Since they missed on all three, it doesn’t seem like we were that close.”
Several players contacted on Monday, however, said they were trying to take positives out of their meetings with a different set of owners and hope that negotiations this week bring more progress.
Commissioner Gary Bettman and Daly are expected to resume talks with NHLPA head Donald Fehr and several players as soon as Wednesday, with early January now the potential target for somewhere between a 48- and 54-game season to begin.
The drop-dead date, if there is one, for a season to be played could be as little as a month away.
“Guys want to play, but any guy that I’ve talked to, they understand the issues and they’re very, very united,” Westgarth said, explaining how he was flooded with calls and text messages from teammates after Fehr and Bettman’s bizarre duelling press conferences last Thursday.
“They’re all on board with where we’re going with the process and very much behind the negotiating committee. It’s not just these 15 to 20 guys sitting in a room – you have 700 – and that is very nice to hear.”